Those winter walks through the countryside and woodlands as we know, can be very enjoyable and enjoyable. Cold and crisp yet invigorating and refreshing…
And at this time of year, several fungi will become more conspicuous. You should especially look out for the lovely and edible Oyster Mushrooms, Velvet Shanks and Wood Blewits. But there are many still out there with a mention, even if they are not destined for the cooking pot…
The Candle snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) is one of these common and intriguing specimens. This member of the ‘flask’ fungi goes by several other common names, such as Stag’s Horn Fungus and Candlestick Fungus. I tend to avoid using the ‘Stag’s Horn’ name as it can cause confusion with the Common Yellow Staghorn, which is a completely different genus.
Widespread throughout the year and covering most of the UK, mainland Europe and North America, it often appears in clustered groups on dead/decaying wood such as deciduous stumps and branches (sometimes pine) and also causing root rot in hawthorn and gooseberry plants. It tends to follow on from other ‘wood rotter’ species that were previous residents of the substrate, such as the larger Honey Fungus and Sulphur Tuft mushrooms.
In late autumn and the winter months it is particularly more noticeable due to their white powdered tips. The young grey-white fruiting body initially appears as a small prong or spike growing out of the wood, standing between 2-5cm tall (up to 0.8cm in diametre). Over time it becomes flattened and twisted, developing several ‘antler like’ appendages. The base is black and finely downy.
Eventually in spring, the whole fungus becomes black as the inner sexual spore-bearing cells mature. I don’t want to get too scientific about it, but it’s just to let you know when and what changes occur throughout its life.
Glow in the dark
The mysterious ‘Candlesnuff’ name may be due to the fact that this is actually a bioluminescent fungus. The phosphorus contained in the mycelium reacts with oxygen and other chemicals in the fungus to produce a continual glow – just like the glow from a candle wick once extinguished maybe? Well that’s my theory anyway! But alas, this reaction is very weak and can only be seen in complete darkness with zero light pollution and a long photo exposure or using specialist imaging equipment. Never mind!
Keep an eye for them over the winter months – they are often in massed in glorious photogenic groups. It would be rude not to take a picture!
QUICK ID TABLE: CANDLESNUFF Xylaria hypoxylon
Initially short and prong like, growing into antler like formations covered in fine white powder.
Black and finely felty.
GILLS / SPORE PRINT
HABITAT / SEASON
On dead/decaying stumps and branches. All year. Mature & black in spring.
Inedible. Tough, too small.